The 1998 Malachi Martin novel, Windswept House, opens with a Satanic ritual performed at St. Paul’s chapel inside Vatican City by members at every level of the Catholic clergy. The purpose? To open the door of the Church to the Devil’s influence, and lead to the destruction of Catholicism from within.
The premise of the book would have been controversial enough, but Martin’s claim that 95% of the story was based on actual events (and 85% of the characters were based on real people) made it moreso.
But is it a preposterous assertion that God’s own priests, bishops and cardinals would participate in the work of destruction? The famous vision of Pope Leo XIII in 1884 would seem to suggest otherwise:
…They recounted that Pope Leo XIII was climbing the steps to the altar when he suddenly stopped, stared fixedly at something in the air and with a terrible look on his face, collapsed to the floor (some accounts say he fell shrieking). The Pope was carried off by those around him to another room where he came around. As one rendition of the story tells it:
“When asked what had happened, he explained that, as he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he suddenly heard voices – two voices, one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh. They seemed to come from near the tabernacle. As he listened, he heard the following conversation:
The guttural voice, the voice of Satan in his pride, boasted to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.”
The gentle voice of Our Lord: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.”
Satan: “To do so, I need more time and more power.”
Our Lord: “How much time? How much power?”
Satan: “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service.”
Our Lord: “You have the time, you will have the power. Do with them what you will.”
Following this, the Holy Father was so shaken that he sat down and composed the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, which was then instituted as a universal prayer to be said after every low Mass throughout the world. Some would argue that the suppression of this practice by the Sacred Congregation of Rites just 80 years later – nicely within the Devil’s timeline – counts as evidence of the effectiveness of his challenge.
Today, we again hear the alarming assertion that the devil is “in the Vatican,” this time from Fr. Gabriel Amorth, considered the world’s most experienced exorcist. In his recently published memoirs, Fr. Amorth makes claims that seem to have come straight from Martin’s novel. According the The Times (UK):
Sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are proof that that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican”, according to the Holy See’s chief exorcist.
Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has been the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the consequences of satanic infiltration included power struggles at the Vatican as well as “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon”.
He added: “When one speaks of ‘the smoke of Satan’ [a phrase coined by Pope Paul VI in 1972] in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and paedophilia.”
Not everyone thinks Fr. Amorth’s claims are credible. The Times also interviewed Father José Antonio Fortea Cucurull, “a Rome-based exorcist”, who said that
Father Amorth had “gone well beyond the evidence” in claiming that Satan had infiltrated the Vatican corridors.
“Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God,” he said. Some Vatican officials were more pious than others, “but from there to affirm that some cardinals are members of satanic sects is an unacceptable distance.”
I admit, I question the judgment of an exorcist who looks for empirical evidence of the machinations of the Devil. One of the more profound statements I’ve seen on the Satanic strategy came from Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal in the film, The Usual Suspects. At the end of his description of the workings of the mythical villain Keyser Soze, Verbal concludes: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that – poof! He’s gone.”
As someone who has seen the diabolical up close and personal, I know the truth in this statement. I’ve been present at no fewer than half a dozen deliverances of persons under demonic influence (performed by an authorized diocesan priest) and while I never enjoy speaking about these experiences, they have left a lasting impression upon me. The Devil, cunning as he is, seems to take two approaches in the destruction of souls. The first, and by far most effective and common, is that mentioned above – he conceals his presence, leaving his work undiscovered and unchallenged. The second, more dangerous to his success by far, is the role of terrorist. This latter comes when even his subtlety is noticed and thus rejected by a person of sufficient spiritual intuition, at which point he tries to frighten them into submission through the more dramatic manifestations we’ve all come to associate with the demonic. This approach can be effective – a friend once indicated to me that she never wanted to become “too holy” because she didn’t want to experience the supernatural abuse suffered by so many of the saints. But as men like St. John Vianney proved, even the harshest attacks by Satan could become a source of spiritual consolation, leaving the Devil powerless against someone infused with God’s grace. The problem the Devil faces in showing himself is paradoxical – if he exists, so must the God he works against. This is why he almost always prefers to operate under the cover of darkness.
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich was one of the mystics who saw with prophetic clarity the infiltration of the Church’s hierarchy by those under Satanic influence. Among her visions were the following predictions, which seem eerily similar to those warnings offered by Fr. Amorth:
Then I saw an apparition of the Mother of God, and she said that the tribulation would be very great…They must pray above all for the Church of Darkness to leave Rome.
I saw deplorable things: they were gambling, drinking, and talking in church; they were courting women. All sorts of abominations were perpetrated there. Priests allowed everything and said Mass with much irreverence. I saw that few of them were still godly, and only a few of them had sound views on things.
Among the strangest things that I saw, were long processions of bishops. Their thoughts and utterances were made known to me through images issuing from their mouths. Their faults towards religion were shown by external deformities. A few had only a body, with a dark cloud of fog instead of a head. Others had only a head, their bodies and hearts were like thick vapors. Some were lame; others were paralytics; others were asleep or staggering.
I saw what I believe to be nearly all the bishops of the world, but only a small number were perfectly sound. I also saw the Holy Father– God-fearing and prayerful. Nothing left to be desired in his appearance, but he was weakened by old age and by much suffering…
Then I saw that everything that pertained to Protestantism was gradually gaining the upper hand, and the Catholic religion fell into complete decadence. Most priests were lured by the glittering but false knowledge of young school-teachers, and they all contributed to the work of destruction.
In those days, Faith will fall very low, and it will be preserved in some places only…
It’s difficult for some of us to believe that the Devil – whom we know exists as an article of faith – could be so at work even within the Church itself. And yet we’ve received countless warnings that it would be so, even from Christ himself. His promise is both comforting and frightening:
“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)
For Christ to offer such a guarantee means that the “gates of hell” would not only try to prevail against the Church, but would come so close to success as to appear to have done so. That this apparent success would be defeated by His power and the efficacy of the Church is a great consolation to us, but we should not presume it will be easy. We must all remain vigilant, and pray that we will be preserved from the enemy, and that his influence will be defeated – not only in our own lives, but in the Church itself.